practical magic (1998) is a cult classic fantasy romance drama that is a must-have for many people’s Halloween viewing. While not a scary movie (unless you’re watching it with kids), the film follows a family of witches and ends with a feel-good Halloween scene. As Hocus Pocus (1993), it is one of the more lighthearted horror movies that tend to be loved by horror fans.
Based on a novel by Alice Hoffmann, practical magic is about a family of witches cursed by their ancestor Maria, who was betrayed by her lover. As a result, whenever a female member of the family falls in love, her lover dies an untimely death. Sisters Ginny (Nicole Kidman) and Sally Owens (Sandra Bullock) were raised by their aunts Frances (Stockard Channing) and Bridget (Diane Wiest) after their father was killed by the curse and their mother died of a Broken Heart.
In their small town in Massachusetts, the Owens family are considered outcasts because they are known to be witches. Ginny and Sally are bullied as children and Sally avoids magic despite being naturally gifted. As a teenager, Ginny runs away to escape the oppressive small town and family notoriety. Years later, the sisters reconnect when Sally’s husband is killed by the curse. Grieving, Sally returned to her aunts but forbade them from teaching her daughters magic.
Shortly after, Ginny calls Sally and asks for help because her boyfriend, Jimmy Angelov (Goran Visnjic), is abusing her. Sally rushes to Ginny’s side and accidentally kills the belligerent Jimmy with belladonna while trying to calm him down. Desperate, the sisters cast a spell to raise Jimmy from the dead but are forced to kill him. Again when he gets violent. The rest of the film deals with the police investigation into Jimmy’s disappearance and his lingering spirit, which begins to possess Ginny.
Whereas practical magic failed to recoup its $75 million budget and critics gave it poor reviews, it is now one of the most popular witch films of all time. Here are some fun facts and behind-the-scenes anecdotes about a treasured Halloween classic:
- The Owens House was deemed so important to the film that while much of the film was shot on a soundstage in California, a real house was built for the film on a park lot on San Juan Island in Washington. It was an architectural shell and the interior of the house was never completed. It was demolished after the immediate shooting.
2. Because the house was built on park land that had Native American heritage, no digging was allowed, as the house was only a shell. This is also the reason why the house was demolished as soon as filming was over.
3. After the film was released, the production got a call from Barbara Streisand, who wanted to buy the house.
4. Sally’s apothecary shop was filmed in the town of Coupeville on Whidbey Island in Washington. In real life, space is a bakery.
5. In the final scene, most of Coupeville’s population showed up to play townspeople watching the annual Owens Women’s Halloween pageant. They were paid $40 a day to work as extras.
It was literally like a cauldron. Every emotion, theme, and ingredient you could imagine swirled in it. I particularly liked the use of magic by the women; it comes straight from the title. It’s a more hands-on, almost holistic approach that seems like a gift that just about anyone could have.
Griffin Dunne, Practical magic: the Victorian romantic who casts a spell
6. Director Griffin Dunne starred in the comedy horror An American werewolf in London (1981) as Jack Goodman, an American backpacker who is killed by a werewolf and then appears to his friend as a ghost.
7. Dunne is Joan Didion’s nephew.
8. Dunne’s sister, Dominique Dunne, was also an actress. His big break was Fighting spirit (1982). The year it was created on the eve of Halloween, Dominique was strangled in her West Hollywood driveway by her ex-boyfriend, John Thomas Sweeney. He only served 3.5 years in prison.
9. The film’s iconic soundtrack is titled by Stevie Nicks, who used it to promote her (then) new song “If You Ever Did Believe” and a new version of her song “Crystal.” Both songs had Sheryl Crow singing backup vocals.
10. Another great song about the practical magic The soundtrack is “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell which is featured in the scene where Ginny drives through the night to comfort a grieving Sally. A CD with the song and script pages were sent to Nicole Kidman to convince her to sign on for the role.
11. For the “midnight margaritas” scene, Nicole Kidman actually brought “really bad” tequila to the set and the four women were actually drinking during filming. Many crew members also drank while working on this scene.
12. Nicole Kidman’s last project before practical magic has been Eyes wide closed (1999) written and directed by Stanley Kubrick. She was used to “seventy or eighty” takes for each scene, while Sandra Bullock was used to doing the normal 2-3.
13. In the commentary, it is stated that the cast and crew heard “unearthly noises” while filming the coven scene at the end of the film.
When I visited the set for practical magic in Los Angeles, I realized that the set designers had created an entire physical world from their imagination, just like me. It was as if we were both novelists.
Alice Hoffman, Practical magic: the Victorian romantic who casts a spell
14. Scream queen Camilla Belle plays young Sally Owens. Evan Rachel Wood plays Sally’s daughter, Kylie.
15. Young Sally casts a spell to keep her from falling in love by focusing on a man who doesn’t exist. One of the spell’s requirements is that the man have “one blue and one green eye”. Gary Hallet has a condition called heterochromia iridum where he has two different colored irises.
16. The film was envisioned as a darker version of the story, but Warner Bros. edited the film into the lighter story it is today.
17. It is implied by the aunts’ clothes that being witches, Owens women live much longer than normal people.
18. Jimmy Angelov was originally a regular Texas redneck, but the director rewrote the role as an Eastern European man after seeing Goran Visnjic in Welcome to Sarajevo (1997). Visnjic is actually Croatian-American, not Bulgarian.
19. The role represented a change for Sandra Bullock, who pledged to give up “trying to do blockbusters” after the Keanu-less Speed 2: Cruise control (1997) failed at the box office. Instead, the actress promised to only take roles that really interested her.
[Practical Magic] recognizes that abuse and trauma are things that happen. But it puts a love affair side by side with that hurt, a reminder that life goes on even after it tries to tear you apart.
Alanna Bennett, ‘Practical Magic’ is 20 years old and still as relevant as ever
20. In one scene, the name of the island where the family lives is seen on a poster as “Maria’s Island”, a reference to their ancestor Maria Owens.
21. There really is a “deathwatch beetlein folklore which is said to predict the death of those who hear it.
22. The idea of sisters sharing power by cutting off their hands and becoming blood sisters is revisited in Ginger biscuits (2000).
23. Before Michael’s death scene, he is shown followed by a black dog, an omen of death in many cultures (including the “Dark” in the Harry Potter series).
24. Alice Hoffman’s novel is very different from the film. Ginny and Sally don’t live with their aunts, there’s no curse killing their lovers, Antonia and Kylie’s ages are reversed, no midnight margaritas and focus much more on Antonia and Kylie and less on Frances and Bridget.
25. Stockard Channing lied about being fluent in French as she wanted a free trip to Paris to record the French dub of the international versions.
26. One the real witch served as a consultant on the film. When she became unhappy with her contract, she threatened to curse the film. The consultant told director Griffin Dunne, “You’re not going to buy me off with a hotel room…I want a percentage of the movie. i will have mine practical magic cookbook… I want another $250,000. She then sued Warner Bros and left a voicemail for a producer where she spoke in tongues. Dunne was legal to pay her and paid for an exorcism ceremony to execute on himself to get rid of the curse.
27. Despite the consultant’s antics, real witches love practical magic.
28. For the scene where a possessed Nicole Kidman collapses to the floor, rubber floors were used to prevent injury. The director praised Kidman’s acting during this scene, saying, “His skin would turn bright red, white to red to white in waves of, you know, bleed. It was intense.
29. practical magic is often cited as one of the inspirations behind the “cottagecore“to orient.
30. In 2004, a pilot called Sudbury (based on the novel’s location of Sudbury, Massachusetts) was produced based on practical magic with Kim Delaney as Sally and Jeri Ryan as Ginny. The show was not picked up despite the pilot being produced by Sandra Bullock.
31. In 2010, a prequel series was attempted for ABC Family but it was never produced.
32. In 2019, HBO ordered a pilot of rules of magic based on another book by Alice Hoffman about the Owens family. The synopsis for that show was “Set in 1960s New York City, the series follows three troubled siblings – Franny, Jet and Vincent Owens – who struggle with ‘abnormalities’ that have isolated them. But the tumultuous times reveal the extraordinary discovery that they are, in fact, descendants of a line of witches. The two sisters would become the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in “Practical Magic,” while their brother would leave behind an unexpected legacy. The show may have been derailed by the pandemic or faced other production issues. This is it is not known if it will ever be made.